Rebranding Manufacturing in America

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By Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

For many, the word manufacturing conjures images of antiquated factories belching black smoke into our air and chemical-tainted liquids into our waterways. Buildings are cavernous and dangerous, filled with old, energy-guzzling machines. In these images, the workers are unmotivated and unhappy, performing repetitive, menial tasks for countless hours—for entire dead-end careers.

These images are inaccurate and out of date. Modern manufacturing is more likely to be energy efficient and environmentally responsible. Manufacturing companies are continuously improving and innovating to remain competitive and compliant with industrial regulations. And, manufacturing employees are typically well-educated, highly skilled individuals who take pride in their professions and perceive their work as important and virtuous.

Now consider the phrases German engineering and Swiss-made watches. Both elicit very different images than that of the antiquated American factory. We imagine rich traditions, meticulous and exacting craftsmanship, and superior products. We must examine why these perceptions contrast so much. Is this contrast accurate, or is it based on out-of-date beliefs?

Many beliefs are rooted in emotion, rather than reason or logic. Successful brands and marketing campaigns trigger an almost subconscious emotional response in the target audience by confirming—or even changing—what that group believes is good, appealing, valuable, and necessary.

The successful revival of the manufacturing industry in the U.S. must include a similar “rebranding” in the eyes of the public, politicians, and policy makers. Manufacturing is no longer a dirty word. Manufacturing is high-tech, it’s innovative, it’s a great career choice, and it’s the backbone of a thriving economy. And, highly advanced digitally driven processes, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, are helping to change the public’s view. Let’s work together to spread the word.

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